Sunday Poems 48: A few sharp thoughts

A few weeks ago, I bought a Japanese straight razor off the internet from a man in Bristol, England. English-speakers refer to Japanese straight razors as Kamisori, which is a lovely word to speak, but in Japanese it means just ‘razor’, so it refers to a disposable Gilette as accurately as a hand-made, straw-wrapped handled carbon steel shaving blade. While European-style straight razors are made in two connected pieces, so that the blade folds back into the handle for storage, Japanese razors are most often a single piece of metal with a long handle hammered into a blade at one end. Unlike European razors, Japanese blades are ground unevenly, so you’re meant to shave with the same side always against the face. This makes shaving the whole face take some practiced contortion to reach each surface.

The fellow who sold me the razor advises to spend a few weeks using the razor every day when you first start using it, to build up the skill. I took this advice, and while I’ve used my safety razor a few days (when I’ve been in a hurry), it’s been extraordinary to observe myself improving day by day at a skill which at first seemed impossible, and nerve-wrackingly dangerous.

I shave after a shower. The warmth softens the face, letting the razor move more smoothly over it, hopefully taking hair with it and leaving my skin behind.

The routine starts with stropping the razor along a strip of pale leather glued to balsa wood. A well-sharpened razor is so thin at the tip that the edge of the blade can fold over with use. Stronpping the blade evenly on a soft surface before shaving straightens out the edge, which helps it cut and helps prevent that folding. I do forty strokes back and forth before shaving. At first, those back and forth strokes, flipping the razor over the back of the blade to switch directions, were awkward and took absolute concentration to do even slowly (a few seconds per stroke) but after a few sleeps, my hands learned the motion and now the forty strokes take only half a minute.

The shaving brush I use to apply a lather of shaving soap to my face is old and starting to fall apart. Synthetic beaver hair sheds itself onto my face. The brush provides a gentle massage as I pass it over my face in tight circles. A thick lather develops. I still haven’t perfected holding the razor yet, but somehow I manage to shave my face. One pass with the grain, reapply the shaving soap, one pass against the grain. I’ve got the process down to twenty minutes, which is a commitment, but it’s progress.

Using this razor makes shaving more of a ritual than it ever has been before. Having rituals helps me to keep my life in order. I’m happy to celebrate this one, and I’ll keep you updated.

Sunday is a good day to fix the hole in the left sock of your warmest pair. The thread you darn it with is too thin, but it still works. Darning always takes longer than you remember. But when it’s over, you don’t want to stop. Opening the sock drawer, and inspecting each sock, you discover eight more socks with minor holes which should be repaired sooner rather than later. Below is a poem. If you enjoy it, I would appreciate if you could share it with a friend if you think they might enjoy it too. As always, I’m here if you need to talk. Have a great week, everybody.

tears do the heavy lifting

the texture of your sweater against my shoulder
i’m hot and you’re cold but i’m leaning against you.

the fireplace is throwing light
all over the room.

a bare neck,
bare fabric,
hoping for something,
feeling tension.

working for a few minutes at a time,
a few flowers, a few butts.

stamping around together.

taking a nap in the afternoon,
going for a walk before supper.

Originally published October 19, 2016.

Theodore Fox is a poet living on Treaty Six land in Canada.
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